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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Colleague Bruce Feldman recently conducted his annual search for cupcakes and ranked the nation's 10 easiest nonconference schedules. Not surprisingly, two Big Ten teams topped his list, as Northwestern had the easiest slate and Penn State wasn't far behind.
Here's Feldman's take on the Wildcats' cakewalk:
1. Northwestern (Towson; EMU; at Syracuse; Miami [Ohio]) Quality point average: 2: Wow. The Wildcats face three FBS opponents and all three are projected to finish in the cellar of their respective conferences or at least conference divisions. Plus, that FCS team they've got, Towson, is coming off a 3-9 season. This is about as close to four sure wins as anyone is going to get.
And his thoughts on Penn State's stay-at-home vacation:
2. Penn State (Akron; Syracuse; Temple; Eastern Illinois) Quality point average: 2.5: Yes, this is the same exact rating as Ole Miss. PSU wins (or is it loses?) the tiebreaker because the Nittany Lions didn't even schedule a road game and because Ole Miss at least faces someone who went to a bowl game in the past three seasons. PSU has six of its first seven games at home, and the closest thing to a formidable nonleague opponent is Temple, which is 3-34-1 against the Lions and hasn't knocked off Penn State since 1941. Akron also is an OK opponent, but is still coming off a 5-7 season. It's worth noting that this is only the third time in 16 years since PSU arrived in the Big Ten that the Nittany Lions have scheduled an FCS opponent.
No major surprises here, though the order could be switched. Syracuse is definitely down, but in my view, a road game against a BCS opponent still carries a higher degree of difficulty than home games against supposedly superior MAC teams (Akron and Temple).
Wisconsin finished No. 10 on Feldman's list, which also included three SEC teams (Ole Miss, Kentucky, Arkansas). I think Florida gets a pass on a lot of these lists. The Florida State game is a mere shell of what it used to be, and the Gators' other three nonconference games are ridiculously easy.
When I look at the nonleague slates of the Big Ten and the SEC, I don't see much difference. But the Big Ten seems to get bashed more in the scheduling debate because its power teams (Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin) all scheduled easy for 2009, while Georgia beefed up its slate and Alabama opens with Virginia Tech.
As for Northwestern and Penn State, more challenging days are ahead, thankfully. Northwestern faces Boston College, Vanderbilt and possibly Stanford in future seasons, while Penn State takes on Alabama, Rutgers and possibly Miami.